So, every American probably knows about Henry David Thoreau’s classic, Walden; or A Life In The Woods, but better known simply as Walden.
We had to read that book for my rhetoric class, and yesterday was our class discussion on it. In my opinion, Thoreau was an obnoxious asshole who thought he was better than other people, but was actually a spoiled little privileged piece of shit. (You can only imagine how much my class of English nerds loved hearing that…)
The class is cross-sectioned, meaning various majors can take the class because it can be applied to multiple fields, such as English, Crit Lit, Philosophy, and people like me, in the writing program (I however, am the only person in the class from the writing program.)
So there I am, stuck in this class with all these English majors who are trained to read between the lines and are saying things like, “Oh I noticed Thoreau’s use of religious metaphors, I wonder what the Christian context of this book is and how it impacted and influenced Thoreau in his life?”
And in my head, I’m like…. NONE! He literally states in the book that he hates organized religions. Most likely he described the woods as a Garden of Eden because he was writing to America in the 1800’s when almost everyone was a devout Christian, so it was just an easy metaphor!
Ugh… academics are so far up their own fuckin ass sometimes.
ANYWAYS, that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about this:
At one point, one of the English major guys was reading his favorite passage from Walden, where Thoreau is listing off all the fauna he sees in the Walden woods.
And the guy reads the word lichen. But he pronounces it as Lich-in even though the word is pronounced as Lie-kin. And I sat there and paused.
Suddenly, memories rushed into my head.
I remembered eating lichen when I was up North in the NWT.
After I graduated from college in Los Angeles, I was destroyed. I was depressed, lonely, and miserable. I had an eating disorder. I was getting sick all the time. I had a sex addiction. I was collapsing all over the place.
I had also fallen in love with American Transcendentalism, and had already read a bit of Thoreau (and didn’t like him much). I was also reading people like Emerson and Muir. They all praised the ideas of running away into the woods, escaping the trappings of the capitalist lifestyle, and living in the moment.
I searched and searched for a form of redemption. I needed to run away and escape LA. I needed to escape the hell I was living in. Finally, I found an opprotunity to live up North where my shelter would be provided. I would be living 90 miles away from the nearest road. The only way to and from the lake I’d be living on was hiking it, or float plane. I’d have to make at least a 3 month commitment in order to have my transportation paid for. I would be living in a “Cabin” that was really just a plywood box.
Below are a few pictures for you. When I got really sad, I took chalk and drew on the inside of my cabin walls! It always made me feel happier.
Ok, I’m getting lost in thought. Stay on track, stray on track!
So, at one point, we had a group of people from the Dene tribe living with us, bringing the grand total of people living in the woods to a whopping 10. However, it was better than a few weeks before when there were only 2 of us. That shit was like The Shining.
OMG, I’m getting off track again.
Look, long story short, we had to live off the land. We grew our own food (The 30 days of light really helped with things growing crazy fast), we hunted moose, we fished for whitefish and Pike. And, it being the Boreal Forest, we foraged. The Far North is loaded with wild strawberries, raspberries, juniper berries, Rosehips, spinach, this green plant that’s sort of like spinach, and my absolute favorite, Saskatoon berries. Saskatoon berries made the best jam in the whole world! Another food source, the Dene told us, was lichen, Reindeer Moss in particular. They showed us many ways to eat it, sometimes simply mixing it into whatever you’ve just cooked to add more nutrition. I became the foregoing king. Like a truffle pig surrounded by….idk…some really fertile truffle forest i suppose, I could spot a wild berry bush from a mile away.
Flash-forward to yesterday: I’m back in the classroom, listening to this beatnik blabber on about how mystical it is that Thoreau found plants in the woods.
And I asked myself… Who actually understands Thoreau better? This English nerd could read Walden 500 times, but he’ll mispronounce lichen every time. Also, has he ever even seen lichen? Has he ever eaten it?
I felt a rush of self confidence come over me. These academics like to think they’re the smartest people in the world. They think they know everything better than everyone else.
But do they?
How much have they actually been through? What do they really know?
There is a quote, but I don’t really know how it goes. It says something like:
One man grows up sitting inside reading books about knives, another man grows up working in a shed making knives. Which of the two is more likely to cut himself?
Point is, I’m realizing as I get older that I’ve actually done a lot, and I’ve been through a lot. A lot that other people haven’t ever been through. And slowly but surely, my confidence level grows. My self respect increases. I feel more and more worthy.
Yes, I ran away into the woods because I was a complete mess…. but how many people can say they’ve ran away into the woods? How many people grew their own food and caught their own fish? How many people get to see the Northern Lights?
And I think a lot of us are like that. Those who have been through things like depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, or just being the outcast who had no one to turn to…any and all of it really.
We may not have had the easiest lives, but we got degrees from the school of hard knocks, which taught us valuable lessons. Lessons that maybe we don’t even know we’ve learned yet. And as corny as it sounds, I think that’s worth something.
I think maybe it makes our story all the more interesting.
It’s like the end of that Robert Frost poem:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
Which again, academics just love to get this one wrong. It’s really popular these days in English classes to teach that Frost didn’t think “the road less traveled” was any more exciting or fulfilling. They say he believed it was simply, different.
To that, I say fuck y’all. That’s just more talk from people who have spent their lives in the plushes of academia.
Was being a complete mess in LA, then losing my mind, and running away into the woods the easy option?
No. of course not.
But then I think about an alternative; The paved, easy path. I wonder what my life would have looked like if I had gone to some big public university in a college town in Ohio or something, joined a frat, drank at parties, and instagrammed it….would that have been a better life? HELL FUCKIN’ NO.
After all, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Keep on walkin’!
~ The Dark Horse